[FORUM]Equalized education: 2 attitudesThe pros and cons of a standardized education system in Korea, a system that would provide roughly the same education in all schools, is well illustrated in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development report released last month. According to the report, the scholastic abilities of Korean students are the highest among OECD member countries in comparison to the amount of money the countries spend on education. The report said, however, that there are few outstanding students here.
The OECD report ranked Korea 18th out of 23 nations in terms of average education spending, but the average reading and understanding abilities of Korean students ranked fourth. The average differences between individual Korean students and schools were half the average of OECD member countries, which illustrated the positive side of Korea's standardized education system. But only 5.7 percent of Korean students were top-notch students.
The OECD divided students into six levels in terms of scholastic abilities, and the average rate of students classified as top-notch was 9.5 percent, which clearly displayed the negative side of the Korean education system.
The report also showed that most of the scholarly achievements of the students were bunched in the intermediate level.
The standardized education system here has undergone changes since it was introduced in 1974. Half of the students at high schools seeking a higher level education, and 68 percent of entire high school students, are enrolled at schools that provide roughly the same education. There are talks to equalize high schools in Mokpo, Suncheon and Pohang, all of which are currently not included in the system.
There are few policies that have been subject to more controversy here for as long as the standardized education system has. Criticism about the system, despite 60 percent support for it, is due to ideological differences. Maintaining an equalized education system has also been one of the focal issues in the presidential election. A new president will be elected tomorrow. What will become of equalized education policies?
The two front-runners differ widely in approaching the equalized education system. Lee Hoi-chang, the candidate for the Grand National Party, said that because scholarly achievements of students are deteriorating, he will create schools in which students study more. Roh Moo-hyun of the Millennium Democratic Party said that it is dangerous to govern primary and secondary education institutes under the current market principles.
Mr. Lee wants to improve the standardized education system gradually. He wants to expand the selection of students by having them submit application forms to schools first and then determine the school through a lottery. He wants to increase special high schools and independent high schools. Schools that meet specific conditions should be turned into independent high schools to let schools select students and set curriculums. In other words, Mr. Lee wants to loosen up the current standardized education system.
Mr. Roh, on the other hand, wants to the keep the current education system intact. He wants to promote equalized conditions in schools and to diversify high schools and educational programs. He wants to suspend the expansion of independent high schools, for he believes that those schools build academic cliques and encourage brutal competition to enter prestigious universities.
The standardized education system, which has been the system that has shaped Korean education for 28 years, stands at a crossroads. It is possible that the system could be subject to some radical changes. The momentum of those changes appears to be the bigger question.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Han Cheon-soo